Alumni return to honor retiring mentor
By Steve Seepersaud
Some of the nation's leading chemists discussed their research at the John Eisch Organometallic Symposium, held on campus Oct. 28-29. For the alumni who attended the event, it was more than an opportunity to learn what their industry colleagues were working on. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to honor their retiring mentor.
John Gitua, PhD '05, (at left in photo with George and Debra Damasevitz) said he didn't have to think twice about accepting the invitation to speak at the symposium. He made the trip from Des Moines, Iowa, where he's an assistant professor of chemistry at Drake University.
Over the years, Gitua has kept in touch with Eisch and they have collaborated on a number of projects. "As the saying goes 'once a teacher, always a teacher,'" Gitua says. "I would always look to him for advice."
Three of the presenters earned their doctoral degrees from Binghamton, and two are Nobel Laureates: Ei-ichi Negishi of Purdue University (pictured with John and Joan Eisch) and Roald Hoffmann of Cornell University.
"I really learned a lot from him," says Xian Shi, PhD '96, a pharmaceutical scientist, who presented some of his work on carbon bonds. "He's very patient, easy to talk to. He really prepared me to work in the pharmaceutical industry. I owe him a lot of my success."
"To see everyone else, it feels like I've come back home," says Renuka Manchanayakage, PhD '07, assistant professor of chemistry at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., who discussed her work on electrons. "I live a few hours away, and unless there's some type of big occasion like this, I don't get to come back. [Eisch] influenced me to be a professor. I didn't know what I wanted to be."
While Eisch's former students say he taught them a great deal about organometallic chemistry -- the study of chemical compounds containing bonds between carbon and a metal -- they easily recall life lessons he taught.
"He would always say 'virtue is its own reward,'" says George Damasevitz, MA '76, MAT '04, science teacher for Broome -Tioga BOCES. "Don't look for payment today or tomorrow."
In closing remarks titled "Retrospect, Prospect and Gratitude," Eisch expressed his appreciation for the collaboration of his talented and diligent coworkers and the support of his department and University.
"I'm basically an organic chemist and believe that even the pre-biotic chemicals essential to life evolved from a pool of simply inorganic chemicals that then united to set the stage for the emergence of life," he says. "I'm interested in the processes that would lead to that. That's the kind of research that makes the rest of us appreciate how improbable it must have been for the emergence of life. But without a lab or talented collaborators, I will have to work that out in my mind. The origin of life is a problem no one will ever really solve completely and it's best to attack it in retirement. So that's the kind of chemistry I will do in the years ahead − thought chemistry."